Sometimes people email me, and sometimes I respond. Often, I get emails that ask me questions, and sometimes I have answers. And frequently, I get asked the same question many times, at which point I make up new answers to keep myself amused and you, the correspondent, on your proverbial toes. In this post I’d like to field some “F.A.Q.s” (or “Frequently Asked Queries”) and maybe impart some wisdom to you, the unwitting reader. Here it is….The Chris Milam Mailbag:
Hey Chris, do you have any pre-show rituals? Thanks! (Kerry Lennox, Missoula)
Actually, I do have some pre-show rituals. Before every show I put three rubber bands around my right wrist for reasons I can’t explain or begin to understand. I usually eat soup (no stew) before a show, because it is light and won’t weigh me down whilst rocking. I also like to arrive at the venue by hot air balloon, if possible. My green room used to be decorated in neon blue (ironic, I know) until The Bravery copied me. Post show rituals include meditation, bloodletting, the usual…
Dear Chris, I have a roommate who won’t empty the dishwasher. What should I do? (Chris Milam, Nashville)
Just confront him, Chris. Open up a frank discourse, maybe outline more clearly your expectations for household chores. If that doesn’t work, try name-calling. No matter what, never use passive aggression.
Yo bro, did you catch that My Morning Jacket show on Saturday? (Garrett Brown, Franklin)
I did, brah, and the Jacket rocked me. Hard. I went with my friend Jay who had driven six hours for the show and afterward wanted to follow them to their next tourdate. Of course, Z is a great album, and It Still Moves is nearing classic status, but their live performance is nearly unparalleled: unbelievably tight, imaginative, emotionally faithful to the songs, and crowd-friendly. Highlights included “One Big Holiday,” “Anytime,” and an extended version of “Run Thru” to finish the first set. I stood about 5 feet from stage right, near the new lead guitar player (who also busted out a saxophone solo on “Dondante”), and I was happy to hear how faithful he was to his predecessor’s lead work. I think the crowd would’ve been mutinous had he not played the Skynyrd-esque leads to “One Big Holiday.” Instead, the place completely erupted when the song fully kicked in and James’ gorgeous, reverb-soaked voice rang out “Waaayykin up…” These guys are taking American music where it has to go–wide open musical landscapes and gorgeous, melodic, genre-hybrids. I can’t imagine there’s a better live show out there.
hI, DO yOu KNow dAvE BaRNEs? SAY HI 4 US!! (Cammy and Martha, Lipscomb)
Hey Chris, are you planning on getting a band together? Can I sing backup? (Jay Caldwell, Searcy)
First, you can’t sing backup, but there’s always room for a good wooden-fish player in any arrangement. Second, I am getting a band together soonly, and I’m looking forward to playing with a full sound again, feeding off a group’s ideas and energy. Hopefully the band will solidify soon (bands come in liquid form). I’ll keep you posted.
What do you think of the Grammy’s? (Marla Fontaine, Kansas City)
Is that a nickname for grandmothers? Old people and I don’t exactly, um, “get along.”
I’ve seen you around town with those ArtistRevolution kids. Who are they, and should I fear them? (Raquel, Belmont)
ArtistRevolution is a group of artists in Nashville that plays shows together, promotes shows together, grocery shops together, and enjoys miscellaneous displays of unity. Actually (and you can check them out at www.artistrevolution.net or www.sambrooker.com), Sam Brooker (an artist here in Nashville) and his compatriots have been doing some great work, providing independent artists in Nashville an opportunity to play great venues for large crowds, have access to recording equipment, and basically build a recognizable alternative to the country-dominated music scene. They’ve been nice enough to include me, so look for some upcoming shows and related events soon.
Chris, you a Paul or John kinda guy? (Rev. Miles Appleby, Montgomery)
George. Actually, I heard Pete Best (Beatles), Dale Crover (Nirvana), and a host of other should’ve-been band members have formed their own retaliatory band called The Last Laugh.
Yo bro, did you catch that Cory Branan show on Monday? (Garrett Brown, Franklin)
Garrett, I swear we’ve done this before. As a matter of fact I did catch that Cory Branan show on Monday, and I came away prouder than ever of Memphis’s poet-laureate-with-a-six-string. If you don’t know Cory, he released his debut album, The Hell You Say a few years back to sweeping critical acclaim and moderate commercial success (talk-show appearances, 2-page spread in Rolling Stone, etc.). His “new” album, Umm…, however, has been stalled in production and release for over a year now, making people go, “Umm…whatever happened to that Cory Branan guy?” Regardless of business troubles, Cory’s simply the best American lyricist of his generation, and every one of my peers who is familiar with his work would be hard-pressed to disagree. But, after a false-start with his second-album and a few uneven live performances, I was starting to worry. To my chagrin, Cory’s as good as ever, if not better. All of the new stuff, and the newer stuff is great, and he seems more comfortable playing the old stuff.
This, however, is something I want to talk about at more length, because there’s often a difference between what the performer expects from a show and what the audience expects from a show, and the two don’t always perfectly align. For example, some artists occasionally get annoyed when they feel obligated to play their “hits,” even on nights where they don’t actually feel like playing them. Many performers feel that, above all else, their performances should be emotionally honest, and they shouldn’t perform any songs that they aren’t necessarily “feeling” that night, for fear of “faking it.” While there’s something to be said for staying true to the work, this mindset has led many of my favorite artists to give uneven, self-indulgent shows, because they’re forgetting one basic, fundamental issue: performing is a job. It is a job like any other job, like the jobs people work ten hours a day so they can afford to see their favorite musicians sing their favorite songs, not something the artist half-wrote at 5 a.m. last Tuesday and wanted to try out on an unwitting and restless crowd. Ultimately, no good show should be exclusively about performers or the audience members, because all good shows should focus on the natural interaction of both. Like anything else, there’s a happy medium of familiar singles and obscure b-sides, album-accurate performances and live experimentation. Of course, don’t experiment too much, or you’ll end up playing 40-minute incontinent jams of glorified elevator music for hipster geriatrics.
Milam, I heard you’re going to Vegas this weekend. Any chance you’ll come back Mr. Spears? (Kevin, Burbank)
Only if Jamie Lynn’s well over 18.
Jerry, are you gambling on this weekend? (Jerry, Condova)
I’ll bet you all my money that I lose every cent I bring to Vegas. That way, no matter what, I win. And lose.
In the Rainman suite,
P.S. Feel free to send future questions for the mailbag through this blog’s comments, located at the bottom of the post. Right under this “P.S.” Where it says “Comments.” There you go….